Friday, September 25, 2009

Exploring Cicely, Alaska

As those of you who have followed our travels know, we enjoy visiting the places that are not major tourist attractions, but that we find interesting and unique. We've always been fans of the old TV series "Northern Exposure", and after watching the series again (thanks to Netflix), we just had to spend time visiting Roslyn, WA, the filming site of the show. We spent a week at the Sun Country Golf Club and RV Resort in nearby Cle Elum, from where we had the opportunity to explore Roslyn and the surrounding area. It's beautiful country; you can see why the producers used this location to film a show set in small-town Alaska. It's an area of rugged, forested mountains and clear-flowing rivers, and Roslyn, with it's old-fashioned store fronts, looks like it could be a small town in the wilderness. Roslyn has a long history of coal mining, and once you're off the main street, the small homes on hillsides reminded us of mining town we've seen in Pennsylvania and Ohio. But we weren't here for the real history, just the made-for-TV memories of the show.
And so, like "Morty" the moose in the opening scenes of the show, we wandered down Roslyn's main street past "The Brick", and on to where the familiar Roslyn Cafe mural, still freshly painted, greeted us. It's actually on the wall of the cafe, which is still open, although if you remember the series, it read "Roslyn's Cafe" to make it fit as a cafe in Cicely. In the first episode, Maurice explains that the mural was painted by a hippie "so high on weed" that he had to paint the apostrophe on himself. We'd always promised ourselves that we'd have lunch at the "Brick", where Holling and his teen-aged bride Shelly lived and where the whole town of Cicely gathered. We enjoyed talking to Paul, our server about the series and the astounding number of people who, 15 years after the series ended, still come to visit the location. The interior of the Brick doesn't resemble what was seen on the show, as the interior scenes were filmed on a sound stage near Seattle. Still, the Brick is on it's own an interesting place to visit. Built in 1889 it's Washington's second-oldest continually operating tavern and much of the interior structure is original, down to the water trough spittoons. Paul graciously gave us a tour, including the basement where the original town jail was located and where an episode of the series was filmed. He showed us how the jail was expanded beyond the original cell with it's iron lattice doors into two cells, the new one built with wood and painted to match. It was amazing - we couldn't tell the difference until actually touching the cell doors. From the Brick, it was a short walk across the street to Ruth-Ann's store, today a liquor and souvenir store. Across the street and down a bit is the "Minnifield Communications" office and home of radio station KBHR, the voice of Cicely and home of "Chris in the Morning" (and afternoon, and night, depending on the episode). The studio sill looks functional; it's the only Roslyn location that has been preserved from the series. Turning back towards the Roslyn Cafe, we came to the office of Dr. Joel Fleischman and his assistant Marilyn, now another gift and souvenir shop. A short walk down the street and past the Cafe brought us to the Roslyn Museum, which although primarily a showcase of the town's mining history, also had a few Northern Exposure (NX) items. One item, Maurice's expensive 17th century "Augsburg Clock", had us laughing at it's construction - paper doilies, Chinese fans, and gold paint. We asked some local folks that we met here why there was not more emphasis on highlighting the NX connection, and were told that the town council wanted to emphasize their mining heritage and were openly negative to suggestions, even though people still come to see Roslyn, the NX filming location. It's too bad; the town could obviously use the tourist dollar, and frankly, there are a lot of mining towns, but only one Cicely, Alaska.
We continued on, using our map of filming locations that is posted on (thanks, Moosechick!) to find the homes of the main characters (they're actual homes of residents). We discovered that Maggie's (second) house still looks good, and that Ed Chigliak's upstairs apartment still looks much the same. Maurice's home, which looked so large and imposing in the show, looks a bit smaller and less impressive in real life.
We had a great time looking around town, but decided that our visit wouldn't be complete without recreating one of our favorite scenes. In one episode, Ed discovers that Ruth-Anne is 75, and struck by her mortality, decides to give her a gift that will last forever. He takes her to a beautiful spot in the woods and announces that he's bought her the land for her grave site, and as the episode ends, we see Ed and Ruth-Anne happily dancing. Armed with our trusty map, we drove along the Cle Elum river out of town for about 10 miles, then turned on to a series of dirt roads, parked and hiked up a hill to the overlook used in the scene. There we were, standing where Ruth-Anne and Ed stood.....well, what could
we do....but dance?

What a great time we had visiting Roslyn! We hope to be back for Moosefest 2010, to visit with fellow NX fans and perhaps see some of the original cast. For now, it's off to new locations and more exploring - come back and see us!


  1. Anonymous1:41 AM

    What a great trip! I'm very interested in going to this place myself. Where did you find the filming site from the dancing episode? Is it on public land? Can anyone drive there?
    Happy Travels!

  2. Thanks for the kind words! Yes, the film sites in woods are all on public land. Everything you need to know about film sites and everything about the series you can find here:
    Have a great time!

  3. Joe Pancake2:12 PM

    Beautiful pics! Thank you for sharing.

    Happy Travels!

  4. HI!
    I'm Szabolcs from Hungary.
    I'm 33 years old. Me and my wife love the TV series. We hope once we could go to this beautifull place and meet as friendly people as you are.
    Best whishes:


  5. Anonymous12:18 AM

    hola im a mexican and i love the series of norther exposure one of my favorites thanks to you guys know i can visited the place and see it by my self have a good trip.